Budgeting & Pricing for Higher Ed Website Redesigns

“How much will it cost to build my website?” This is probably the top question we’ve heard over the nearly 2 decades we’ve provided web design and development services. The question is similar to “How much will it cost to build my house?” Most home-buyers set a budget, or at least a range, before starting their search... and there are many factors that drive price. This is why home-buyers typically have a “must have” list and a “would like to have” list. The same is true for websites. Here are some insights that hopefully help you land on a suitable budget before your vendor search begins.

Number of Pages. Colleges and universities have hundreds, thousands of existing web pages. We’ve run across some that have nearly 20,000 pages. Each page will either need to be removed or integrated into the new website. We generally recommend that the college staff and/or interns handle most (or all) of this after training. If you currently use Cascade CMS (sites model), there is significant time savings to “re-map” all the pages into a new design.

Number of Templates. Most of the design and development cost centers on creating templates. Remember that each template must be designed for multiple devices (mobile, tablet, desktop) and approximately 10 different browser/device combinations. The creative design and special features can introduce additional complexities (and cost) as well. The key is minimizing the number of templates by making them very versatile and flexible.

Most colleges and universities have 4-8 templates (Home Page, Main Category/Landing Page, 1-3 Interior Detail Pages, Calendar Page, Style Guide, News Listing, Faculty Directory). A good understanding of your current content and a focused effort in mapping everything to a small set of templates will have cost benefits. Also, if budget is tight, or if your project is going to be cost-driven, ASK prospective vendors about a streamlined approach that uses more standard templates with less customization.

Strategic Planning (Analysis). We highly recommend to our clients that they take the time to understand their audience in terms of experience (surveys, focus groups, user testing) and engagement (website utilization via heat maps and google analytics insights based on geography, marketing channels, seasonality, etc.). We also recommend a review of the features, functionality and digital strategy of institutions that you consider to be competitors. The collection and analysis of all this information produces facts, insights and validation for your strategic plan and decision-making. Of course, this work comes with an up-front cost, but it usually prevents “secondguessing” and re-work later, during the more expensive design and development phases.

Follow Process & Control Cycles. Attention to these 2 things will keep a project on course and avoid additional funding requests. This is why it is important to understand the selected vendor’s process. Vendors price their work based on the time they expect to spend on different tasks and deliverables. It’s your responsibility to know exactly what those deliverables will contain. We typically review this during our Project Kickoff and Stakeholder’s Meetings. If you, or the university, expect modifications to the defined deliverables, this will come with a price.

Keep in mind that there’s a level of subjectivity involved with anything creative - especially visual and technical features. As a result, ideas can sometimes flow too freely and cause unplanned cycles with, for example, wireframes, graphical mockups and site content maps. To stay “on time” and “on budget”, you must commit to thoroughly reviewing everything during each planned cycle. New ideas will continue to pop into your mind even after “final” decisions have been made, but stay the course. Realize that your website is a living project that will undergo continuous change. So put those ideas on the back burner for the next phase. Otherwise, expect your vendor to put addendums in front of you to approve.

Decision-Making. Most Higher Education website projects have a committee of people from the university involved. Decision-by-committee can cause problems. Beacon advises to establish some internal guidelines and decide “where the buck stops” if/when an impasse happens. Documenting this in an RFP is valuable to bidders and may actually help reduce initial bids. This practice will help guard against unplanned cost once the project has started.

Budgeting. So, how much is it going to cost? It depends. Higher Education website design and development projects typically cost between $50K and $200K. We’ve had some projects under $50K, but they have been very well-defined to a specific phase. The higher end pricing typically involves a significant amount of content migration, customizations or unique factors. Every project is different and here are some very highlevel “rules of thumb” for budgeting the cost to redesign your college website.